[Image is from "Les Intouchables," a very great film that reminds me of this experience.]
Upon moving to a new, very expensive city, I decided that finding a way to avoid rent payments was a worthwhile goal. While browsing craigslist, I stumbled upon a $0.00 offer for housing. Of course, I clicked on it.
The strings: the successful applicant would be working as a part-time (32 hours a week) caregiver for an elderly man with progressive multiple-sclerosis. This man was also the landlord, and would offer a free room in his very large house as compensation. The applicant would live alongside the other caregivers, as well as some regular tenants.
To make a long story short: after three interviews and coming to terms with the hands-on aspects of the work (which were completely new to me), I decided I had to take the position; if only to get way outside my comfort zone and learn. The free rent was now a secondary factor.
Challenges? Great question. There were a few!
First - Acting on behalf of someone else is a very large responsibility, especially when it comes to helping someone who is completely dependent on you. This goes for things like dusting the bedroom, all the way to direct physical interaction (like lifts). The safety of the dependent person is literally in your hands. Driving is another big one that is often taken for granted since it happens so often, but driving is inherently very dangerous.
Second - Patience. This is related to the above, in that when you are helping someone do things they can no longer do, they still want them done their own way. And rightly so. However, this can sometimes be frustrating. Often I found myself thinking that I could perform something quicker if just left to my own devices (I was often wrong, mind you). It takes a lot of patience to listen, and actually hear what is being said, when you disagree. I learned to take a deep breath, and ensure I listened all the way through. Only then would I mention my opinion on the matter. Of course, sometimes it was not worth mentioning.
Finally - Living with your co-workers is hard. No question about it. You are always at work. It can be hard to "shut off" in this situation. I found myself getting out of the house as much as I could when not working. Having a casual dinner around the table with your roommates (co-workers) often turns into a discussion about the work itself.
These challenges, and learning how to overcome them, are why I took this position. I knew it would be worth it.
Looking back on my half-year experience in this position, I realize the benefits and unique factors that apply to it. First of all, the landlord did not want to feel like a "patient." By having a full-time licensed caregiver, he believed that he had less independence. In addition, having students around the house kept the energy level very high. He liked knowing that there were people enjoying themselves at his place. Finally, he remained in control of his condition. It did not control him. By staying current on the latest treatments and tools via the internet and other media, he made the best of the situation. Us caregivers were simply there to help him with the tasks his body no longer allowed him to do (driving, lifting, cooking, etc). And to provide great conversation of course!
This scenario requires the elderly person to have enough financial resources to provide rent-free living for multiple people. That said, I believe it is a great example of creative thinking applied to a very important stage of someone's life. It was a very unique solution that was mutually beneficial, in that it also provided a huge money-saving opportunity for the students.